As I sit here, writing this post just a mere four days before the end of my year long 365 day project, I find myself both excited and emotional. Next week I’ll delve more into the emotional side of it all with my final posting about this project, but tonight I’m excited to write a little about the technical side of my journey – and offer tips, advice, and reflection to anyone thinking of doing a 365 in this new year. And by anyone, I mean y-o-u, because this project was life-changing, career-changing, and hands-down one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and my family, and I can’t tell you enough how much I think everyone should take on this challenge.
I work a 40-hour a week full-time day job. On top of that, I run my photography business. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a friend, and a daughter, and an aunt, and so on and so on. This year, on top of my multiple jobs and momlife, my family also sold our house, bought a new one, moved in, and I painted every room in this house within two weeks, while in the middle of busy season and prepping for the holidays. I’m not looking for a medal here – my point is if I can do this and not end up in the looney bin, so can you. And you should. Because on the days I felt like my brain was going to explode and I couldn’t possibly tackle one more thing, I had to pick up my camera. And 99.9% of the time, just the act of having it in my hands brought my anxiety down to a manageable level. I truly believe we should spend our lives doing what makes us happy – and if photography is what does it for you – you 100% need to take photos for YOU, not just your clients. This project grounded me in so many ways – the exact opposite effect of what I expected going into it.
The question so many people ask me on a pretty regular basis is “how?” “How do you keep up?” “How do you remember to take the photo?” “How do you carry your big heavy camera around day after day?” “How do you edit all those photos and not get behind?” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what tips I could offer to answer these questions, and have compiled a list. So read on, because in no particular order of importance, here is your 365 Day Project Survival Guide:
1. Carve time in your day every day to make your photo selection for the day (you can always change it later).
Hands down, this is the number one piece of advice I can give (did I say these were in no particular order???). If you let yourself go two, three, five days without looking at your photos – you will not finish your project. Pick a 10 or 15-minute window in your day every day that is your upload and “selection” time. For me, most days it was while my kiddo was bathing (I’m a horrible mother who despises shower and bath time, and have a fabulous husband who has been willing to take that battle on for me this year!). For you, it may be after everyone goes to bed, or in the afternoon during nap time. If I didn’t have a photo done by shower time, I made sure to sit down and go through my photos for the day before I went to bed. Even if I knew I had a shot, I took the time every single day to look at my photos and make sure I got one I was proud of, and every day, I chose my one favorite for the day. Sometimes I changed my pick for the day before the end of the month, but I at least knew at the end of every day that I 100% had a shot, and that mental security alone made this project a heck of a lot less overwhelming.
2. Don’t overthink it. Don’t overshoot it.
We’ll call this a two-fer (see what I did there?). There were days this year that I took 400 photos in a day, and days that I literally took two. I would have been very easy for the 400 photo days to overwhelm me and hold me back. Looking through the photos at the end of the day, I would quickly pick a handful, do a quick edit, pick one or two favorites, do a full edit, and then pick one favorite for the day. Again, you can always switch it up later. Not only did this quick process keep me sane, but it has also made me super efficient at culling client work as well – something I was about as fast as a sloth at before this project.
While I had a fair number of “400 photo days”, I would estimate that my average was more like 20 photos a day. You don’t need to take 400 photos to get one. I don’t care if this is your first day as a photographer, or your thousandth, you do not need to take 400 photos to get one. Some days are harder than others. Some days are less exciting than others. The point is to find something interesting, some moment in those harder, less exciting days that you can capture.
3. Set a reminder on your phone – even after it is so routine you wouldn’t think about going to bed without taking your photo.
Days get busy. Brains get overloaded. You do not want to be in month 12 in the middle of the holidays, so close to the end of your project, and forget to take a photo. I use a wonderful free app called “Alarmed” and set a reminder to go off at 5:30 every single evening that just says “photo.” The reminder does not get cleared from my phone until I have picked my photo for the day. (That should keep you red-number hating folks right on top of this project!).
4. Keep your camera “on the ready.”
I never used to have my camera out and ready unless it was for a client shoot. I was too nervous about it being harmed in some way around the house, and because of it, I’ve missed a lot of moments in our life. Now, my camera sits on my desk (a very hard no-go zone for Molly and friends), with the lens attached, and a memory card inside of it. It’s easy to grab, and quick to use, and moments are not lost because I needed to pull my gear together.
5. Talk about it. Post your photos. Don’t wait until it’s over to share and let people know you did this project.
I need accountability in my life. If nobody knows I’m trying to lose 10lbs, I’ll gain 10lbs. If nobody knew I was attempting this project, I’d probably have made it to February. Instead, I posted photos on my personal and professional Facebook pages pretty regularly. At the end of each month, I uploaded a monthly album to my personal Facebook page, and blogged about the month here on this blog. I Instagrammed, I talked about the project with friends, I included friends and family in the project, and I let the world know this was my goal this year. The positive feedback was encouraging, and was a huge motivator in making sure I completed this project successfully.
6. Don’t try to control everything.
Oy, this was a hard one for me. I like to be in control. In February I attended Inspire Photo Retreats and nervously signed up for an image critique with Tyler Wirken. His biggest piece of advice was to stop directing the photos – to let moments happen, and to be ready to capture them. It was a HUGE struggle for me. But the more I started to let go, the better my images became, and the more of my “real” life I began to capture. Are there still days I direct a shot or create a portrait? ABSOLUTELY. But some of my favorite moments from this project have been the ones where I just captured what was happening as it was happening, and I’m so grateful my type-A side was able to let go a bit to capture this part of my life.
7. Get the kids on board.
There is NO way this project would have been a success without my teammate and partner in crime, Molly. Before I started the project, I asked her if she would be a willing participant. Of course, she had no idea what she was actually signing up for, but throughout the year she has moved from whining about pictures to asking me to take them, to agreeing to my crazy side trips to get a fun shot, and even to asking me if I can do this again next year (sorry, kiddo). Aside from the fact that the camera is in her face literally every day, I also needed her to be ok with me sharing photos of her online as much as I do. She is 100% as much a part of this project as I am, and having her on board was crucial to the success of the project.
8. Get a good every day camera bag.
You’re going to need to bring your camera with you more for your 365. I started by carrying it in my regular purse, but a few months in, I was struggling with some serious shoulder pain. I splurged and bought a Kelly Moore Collins Canvas, making lugging the big guy around much more tolerable. While I can’t say I “never leave the house without it”, I can say I bring it along quite often (and often regret it when I don’t), and having a comfortable carrying bag has made a huge difference in being willing and able to have it with me.
9. Go on adventures. But also – photograph at home.
This was a hard one as well. I really really really did not like my last house. It was poorly decorated, small, cluttered, uncomfortable, and had terrible light…..so I thought. When we moved out in November, I was so grateful for this project because not only did I capture some amazing memories and moments in the home where we brought Molly home seven years ago, I also found beauty in a home where I really struggled to see beauty before I started photographing it. There were pockets of light I never knew existed in that house, and instead of looking back on it with a totally sour taste, I have some really strong memories of beauty in a home I didn’t learn to like until this project. And on top of that, Molly has nearly a year full of memories captured from her childhood in her first ever home, and I’m so grateful she’ll have photos to remember what our space looked like both inside and out.
10. Push yourself.
Maybe your motivation for doing your 365 will be different, but for me, not only did I want to capture a year in our life, but I knew this project would make me a better photographer. The first few months I felt like it was just making me a busier photographer, but as I started being more comfortable shooting every day, looking for new light, and new angles, I found myself pushing myself to capture photos I never would have taken last year. Take for example, the day I crouched under the swingset, popping out quickly to capture Molly mid-air from an angle I’d never tried before, darting back underneath just before her feet smashed my big camera and my face as they came back down to earth. Or the time I stood in the ocean with huge waves barreling at me with my camera about two inches from the water instead of the comfortable distance out of the water or a few feet above. Or the time I marched myself down to the front of the movie theatre to snap a shot of my kid in the killer overhead light, not caring that people were watching. There were the times I pushed my ISO waaaay past my comfort zone to see what my camera could handle, and times I scootched down just a hair more than I would have before to get the shot. And while every day was definitely not a “push it day” (let’s face it, some days are harder than others), that mentality created a collection I’m proud of, and made me a better photographer – both in my personal and my professional worlds.
I cannot truly put into words what this project has meant to me and my family, and I cannot stress enough that if you want to do it, you CAN do it. At the end of this year, this project forced me to go on adventures that otherwise never would have happened, gave me incredible confidence as a photographer, formed a bond between my daughter and I that nobody else can touch, taught me so much more about light and composition, and made me a stronger photographer for myself, but also for my clients. While I will be taking 2018 to shoot at my own pace, I look forward to tackling this again in a year or two, and so very much hope to follow other friends as they take this on themselves. Check back next week for December photos and the final 365 Day Project presentation. I can’t wait to share my year with you!